January 11, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Republicans Support Abuse of Power
"Constitutional conservatism" was a fraud then and now.
If you’re mad, good. If you’re not, get mad.
The Republican Party is ready to support a president preparing to abuse the powers of his office to deliver a campaign promise few believe is necessary. This is the same party that accused Barack Obama of being the most lawless president in history.
The federal government has been shutdown for 21 days. Tomorrow will be the longest it’s ever been closed. Donald Trump, in walking away from negotiations, is creating conditions in which it appears he’s being forced to declare emergency powers that allow him to ignore the will of the Congress. It’s not his fault if he commits an impeachable offense, the thinking goes. The Democrats made him do it.
Trump has a choice. He could work inside a deliberative bargaining process to reopen the government. But he’s never worked with an empowered opposition. Even when he worked with Republicans, he didn’t get a border wall. So he’s looking for ways to circumvent the Congress, the principle of separated powers, and the law.
Moreover, the declaration, if he invokes it, would be almost entirely theatrical. The Democrats and other actors will file for injunction before they argue the national emergency is made out of whole cloth. Nearly all members of Congress who represent people living on the border oppose the wall. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is escaping the political crisis of the government shutdown without looking weak. Even if the border wall is never built, even if built only on government property, Trump can declare victory. He can look dominant for his fascist base, and discourage, for now, any would-be challengers from his party.
Political theatrics can have tangible outcomes, though. First and foremost is the executive precedent set. If a Republican president can declare a national emergency when he’s not getting a border wall, the next Democratic president can do the same or similar when she’s not getting something she wants. Instead of unpopular outcomes, like building a border wall, however, this future Democratic president could likely take popular action to stop something evil, like school shooting massacres.
Imagine the response if roles were reversed. Imagine what Congressional Republicans would say if a Democratic president declared a national emergency to stop the plague of gun violence killing our nation’s youth, and launched a program to confiscate guns.
Yes, Republicans and their allies have been saying for years that the Democrats would do that, but that’s always been a lie. I’m talking about a precedent from which that really could happen. If Trump can invoke “the military version of eminent domain” to seize privately owned land for a wall, I don’t see a reason why a Democratic president can’t make the same case when it comes to seizing privately owned guns.
Actually, we don’t have to imagine what the Republicans would say about a Democratic president abusing her powers. We know. We know, because the entire GOP apparatus sang in unison, accusing Obama, after he announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, of being the most lawless president in history. One pundit recently called it a “unilateral violation of American sovereignty and immigration law [that] was likely the most lawless act of an executive in recent memory.”
DACA wasn’t lawless, and it wasn’t an abuse of power. The point is we know what the Congressional Republicans would say if a Democratic president did what Trump is preparing to do. They have established a precedent. If Trump declares an emergency in the absence of a real emergency, Congressional Democrats would be on solid ground if they accused this president of a “unilateral violation of American sovereignty.”
Such accusations won’t stir up the Democratic Party’s base the way they stir up the Republican Party’s base. Democrats don’t hear the racism embedded in such accusations. When the Republican Party fought for “American sovereignty” during the Obama years, many GOP voters cheered the party for defying a black president. This isn’t a theory. It’s confirmed by a GOP president doing what the Republican Party railed against for eight years, only now there’s nary a word of complaint.
Except from real conservatives, but that’s another story. For now, you should be mad, and if you’re not, get mad. Especially if you gave these so-called conservatives the benefit of the doubt. Ted Cruz was the leading “constitutional conservative” during the Obama years. He led the chorus of “conservatives” accusing Obama of “unprecedented lawlessness.” Now, when a GOP president threatens to abuse his powers, even if that means taking private land, Cruz has nothing to say.
That’s one precedent, at least, worth cheering for.
Climate change is an emergency
My senator, Chris Murphy, had this to say Thursday.